EngineTurbo 2.0L I4
Power240 HP / 270 LB-FT
0-60 Time7.1 Seconds
Curb Weight3,902 LBS
Cargo19.4 / 47.6 CU-FT
MPG19 City / 28 HWY
At 171.9 inches long, 83.7 inches wide and 64.4 inches high, the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque is the most diminutive Range Rover ever. Cradling a four-cylinder engine with 240 horsepower between its front fenders, it is also the least powerful Range Rover. With MagneRide magnetorheological suspension, an 825-watt Meridien sound system, a body that contains almost 100 pounds of recycled and renewable materials that helps get the baby all-wheel-drive to 28 miles per gallon on the highway, it is the most advanced Range Rover ever.
The question is not, is the Evoque a good vehicle? Spoiler Alert: the answer is yes. The question is, is it, actually, a Range Rover?
Remember that the Evoque began life as the Land Rover LRX Concept at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, and has now been turned into the remarkably true-to-concept Range Rover for 2012. That couldn't have been terribly difficult to do because the concept already wore the essential picnic basket of Range Rover design cues – clamshell bonnet, floating roof, wheels at the corners – and was either going to become the hottest Land Rover anyone had ever seen, or the really sporty little Range Rover it already looked like. And it is a pleasure to finally say, after so many other vehicles that need excuses for their mug shots, the Evoque is equally alluring in photos and in person. The bulldog composition of its big face that tapers to a svelte tail, to our eye, works in every color.
Nor could it have been the interior aesthetic that most severely challenged the minds at Range Rover. The brand only had two vehicles, and the smaller one is but a sportier version of the larger one. The Evoque is the next step down a large, wide path: there's the deep, hooded instrument panel; the strongly horizontal instrument panel that juts out at the chin; and the same layout, contrasts and dial finishes you find on the larger siblings. The concept first showed off the sloping center console, but the public has had two years to make its acquaintance since it was introduced on the 2010 Range Rover Sport.
Although it's among the nicest interiors of anything in the $44,000 segment, the Evoque naturally resets the latitude for Range Rover plushness. The $16K separating this from a Range Rover Sport had to come from somewhere. It did not appear to come from the seats, in any case. The concept's multi-element chairs have been toned down for production, of course, but the shape remains close, the leather and stitching remain thick, and the contrasting insert pattern is the same. There are no obvious cases of Range Rover abandoning its principles, but the cabin is less full-bodied, the plastic is more noticeable, and the Volvo window and mirror switches continue their quest to never, ever go away. It's nice. No, it's quite nice. It just took some getting used to in a vehicle labeled "Range Rover." This theme will come up again...
Underneath is really where the Evoque takes its stand as a brand-new kind of Range Rover, even as the Evoque sports stalwart Range Rover features like a surround camera system; adaptive and auto-dipping headlights; a heated windshield, steering wheel and seats; and the aforementioned 825-watt Meridian stereo system and rear seat entertainment package.
The off-road capability you would expect from a Range Rover, however – even if you'll never use it – is tough to marry to the best on-road manners you'd ever get from a Range Rover. Making that union work is where the biggest portion of brainpower went. That's where you get the Boron steel-infused monocoque body, the magnetically-tuned damping system seen on Ferrari and Corvette models, the isolated subframes, the electrically assisted power steering, the regenerative charging and clutchless air conditioning compressor, and the fenders and tailgates composed of polymers and composites. It was everything Range Rover could throw at it in order to make sure that old traditions got along with the new wave.
The Evoque trim range is broken into three main design themes: Pure with a black badge, Dynamic with a red badge, and Premium with a silver badge. On top of that, a Premium package can be added to each theme. This is no superfluous use of the word "theme," as each level is paired with specific details and interior tonal ranges to showcase its philosophy. A Pure interior comes in neutral colors, Prestige gets two-tone color schemes and better leather and stitching, and Dynamic gets things like a different bumper and sills outside and perforated leather and "sports detailing" inside.
The first day we drove a two-door Prestige on winding B-roads and a few off-road sections between Anglesea, Wales and Liverpool, England. The Ford-sourced 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine producing 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque is also showing up for the first time in the Ford Explorer and Edge this year. In the Evoque, a crossover that's a quarter-ton lighter than an Edge and more than half-a-ton lighter than an Explorer, thrust is timely and pleasant. From a standstill, 60 miles per hour comes in 7.1 seconds. It isn't, however, particularly quiet, and it was a strange sensation to hear high-strung four-cylinder machinations filling a Range Rover's cabin when you wanted to charge.
We were more pleased to find that, even with the Evoque's concept-car lines, it is perfectly easy to see out of. Looking into the rear-view mirror, the backlight could almost pass for a pillbox slit, but somehow the view out the back isn't compromised. The upward sloping shoulder and trim D-pillar profile on the outside don't hide any tricks inside – there was still plenty of glass in the right places to check our blind spot with just one glance, a situation no doubt helped by the giant side mirrors with blind spot detectors.
The electric power steering offered all the sensations we needed, on-road and off, to put the Evoque where we wanted it, and even without the MagneRide suspension, this crossover handles more like a big car than a little truck (admittedly in terms of weight, there is less and less difference between the two).
The second day, on the urban route, we drove a five-door Dynamic with the MagneRide suspension. As the route was chosen to showcase the Evoque's urban chops, it provided absolutely no test of its supposedly better handling, but even had we been able to test it, it would only improve something that is already quite good.
Other than discovering that the Evoque is a sound offering, there were two features that are still the first to come to mind whenever we think of it: the panoramic glass roof and the back seat. The larger Range Rover models, even with their titanic windows, are darker, somber places. Keep the shade pulled back on the Evoque, though, and the entire cabin is always full of light and the back seat passengers don't have to live in some shaded grotto behind the main action.
And that back seat is a welcome harbor for two adults. You can fit three folks back there, but in spite of the brand trumpeting a five-seat cabin, they wouldn't want to sit back there all day. Also, even with the coupe's large doors, you have to put your mind to getting in its back seat, and you can't just fall into the rear bench of the five-door either with its smaller rear portals. But once settled in the back seat of either, you'll find a copious amount of real estate. In terms of comfort, we think it might be the best back seat of any Range in the range.
After driving the Evoque for two days, we didn't have any doubts about its worth as a vehicle. It's the plushest entry in the segment, it's roomy, it's comfy, it handles the road quite well and it goes off-road with brand-burnishing aplomb. The biggest question we had came halfway through the drive on the first day: Even with the familiar lines and familiar knobs, can it really be called a Range Rover? That depends on what those two words, "Range Rover," mean to you. The Evoque, by necessity, cannot be many things one might associate with a brand built on royal backs of King Range Rover and Prince Range Rover Sport. The Evoque isn't big, it isn't heavy, it doesn't have throne-in-a-penthouse seating or a giant V8. That means more wind and tire noise, that means a hard-working exhaust note instead of a hard-charging one, that means feeling more regular, less royal.
This brand exercise, however, isn't new, and as practiced by other marques from Rolls-Royce to Mini, it isn't centrally aimed at those in love with the brand as is. This is Range Rover's version of the Porsche Boxster, built to capture the folks who weren't ready or interested in dropping sixty large just to get inside the door of a Range Rover party.
Nevertheless, they'll still pay for the privilege – another one of those Range Rover values that made the transition. Prices run from $43,995 for a Pure Plus five-door to $52,895 for a Dynamic Premium Coupe, and our Magic Eight Ball stutters on "As I see it, yes" before settling with "Reply hazy, try again" when asked about sales. Judging from Range Rover's seriously upward trajectory of late – every model posted double-digit gains last year save the long-toothed Defender-saurus – we hardly doubt the Evoque will put any brakes on the proceedings. Yet for a vehicle that is smaller and less powerful than a Mercedes-Benz GLK350 but priced more like an M-Class, it will take brand values, not mere value, to make the gambit work.
For buyers who want those particular Range Rover values that can be applied to a package that is smaller, friendlier, easier to handle and more frugal than anything Range Rover has ever done, this is where you need to look. You won't be disappointed.